Before taking my trip to the Paria Canyon I was looking around for a few books to read while on the journey. I had in mind reading The Challenge of Jesusby N.T. Wright but by the time I got looking for it in bookstores I couldn't find it and it was too late to order. Next up I was offered, The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill, but I had already read that and loved it. I was ready for something new. And that's when I saw, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright on the shelves.
I was first introduced to N.T. Wright around easter this year when our church showed videos narrarated by him during Passion Week. Wright is one of the more well recognized and respected Biblical scholars around today. His main field of study gravitates towards the historical climate in which Jesus Christ walked. He has infused this in many of his writings and when he does you may find yourself with a fresh or different view of a parable you have heard 3000 times. Without the historical context and taken straight from the pulpits in America in 2006 some stories and interpretations can become a bit skewed.
Sometimes this would lead to dull and dry reading. But not in this case. Wright starts out with what he calls "echoes of a voice" the pangs we here in our conscience or subconcious. Why do we crave justice, spirituality, or relationships? Why is it that beauty alone does not completely satisfy us. In searching for these answers he does not give conclusive proof that a God exists. But hopes to just point out that faith can make sense. From there his writing style completely takes over. Reading this I was reminded of many conversations with friends at college about my faith. He of course discusses Israel, the Trinity, prayer and worship as well. He does not leave his historical background at the door, but allows it to shed different shades of light on ideas we have already thought through numerous times.
To me however, the most compelling and most important parts of the book discussed the role of the Christian individual and the Church as a whole in todays society. He talks of a world needing to be "put to rights." By this he means justice. And he is not talking about the Christian Right idea of justice where all disenting views need to be diminished. He is talking of engaging a world in need and working on the behalf of the oppressed, needy, and neglected. He talks of prayer vigils in Easter Europe round the fall of oppressive Communism, or the peaceful work of Desmond Tutu in Africa. This isn't a Pat Robertson blaming Hurricane Katrina on gay marraige. This is a man who in his studies of Jesus feels compelled to be caught up in the way of life that he lived. If Christians are to be a positive force in todays society they need to engage the world. He understand the difference between engaging and being in this world, and being of this world. As he so readily points out we live in a world where Heaven and Earth often interlap, if only for brief moments. If this is the case, if Heaven sometimes interlaps, why would the individual Christian stand on the sideline and not want to participate in this world as well.
Now, I didn't agree with everything he said. There was some stuff of Baptism and some bits on worship I didn't agree with. That said, it is definitely a worthwhile and engaging read, for believers and skeptics alike. If you are a skeptic, you at least get a more historical context of the Church and Christianity. If you are a believer, chances are you will be challenged and look at some, if not many thing differently after reading.